Democrats swept tough governors' races in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday, dealing a setback to Republicans and President George W. Bush ahead of critical congressional elections next year.
In C-leaning Virginia, Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine defeated former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore despite Bush's 11th-hour appearance on Kilgore's behalf.
And Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine beat Republican businessman Doug Forrester in a New Jersey race that featured an attack on the divorced Corzine from his ex-wife.
In other contests across the country, dozens of cities picked mayors and seven states considered ballot initiatives, including California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has bet his sinking political capital on passing four initiatives.
In New York, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg sailed to re-election after spending as much as $100 million of his own fortune to defeat Democrat Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president.
With control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress and 36 governorships at stake in 2006, the off-year election results offered grim news for Republicans looking for clues to next year's political climate and the long-term effect of Bush's plummeting approval ratings, now the lowest of his presidency.
The Virginia result in particular was a blow to Bush, who stopped in the state for a get-out-the-vote rally with Kilgore on his return from Latin America. Bush's mounting political problems and Kilgore's poor showing could make Republicans hesitant to call on him for help next year.
The Virginia race was heated, with Kilgore attacking Kaine in a series of harsh television ads as too liberal for the Southern state on social issues like the death penalty, abortion and immigration.
But the ads seemed to sour voters on Kilgore. Kaine allied himself with popular Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, a potential 2008 presidential candidate who is barred by law from seeking a second term, and argued he was the logical choice to keep Virginia moving ahead.
In Democratic-leaning New Jersey, Forrester aired an ad last week featuring the published comments of Corzine's ex-wife, who told The New York Times the divorced Corzine "let his family down, and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too."
Corzine, a multimillionaire and former Wall Street executive, replaces former Gov. James McGreevey, who resigned last year after revealing a homosexual affair with an aide. As governor, Corzine will appoint his replacement as senator.
Possibly no one had more at stake than Schwarzenegger, the once immensely popular governor of the nation's largest state who faces re-election next year.
The former actor campaigned heavily for four ballot initiatives, which were among 39 measures facing voters in seven states on issues ranging from gay rights to election reform.
Maine was deciding whether to keep a law protecting homosexuals from discrimination, while Texas approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
In mayor's races, incumbent Kwame Kilpatrick was in a tough battle in Detroit, while cities from Boston to San Diego also elected mayor, Reuters reports.
Photo: The USA Today